1. Deforestation Inc., Part 4: the ‘fibre grab’

We’ve published Part 4 of Joan Baxter’s Deforestation Inc. series.

Writes Baxter:

The pulp and paper industry is not, as Jim, the whistleblower mentioned in earlier articles in this series, puts it, “a sexy industry like tech.”

“You can’t innovate too much on toilet paper,” he says.

But, he adds, diapers, toilet paper, tissues, and other hygienic products, as well as packaging and fancy wrapping paper are all growing markets. To make these you need pulp, and to make pulp, you need fibre.

And that is why he thinks Canadians can’t afford to ignore what is happening in its pulp and paper sector.

Some of the pulp mills Paper Excellence was buying in Canada between 2007 and 2014 were aging and highly polluting plants — only five of the ten purchased in those years are operating today — but they tended to come with access to supplies of quality fibre that is becoming increasingly scarce.

To make strong paper products, Jim points out, you need high quality pulp, the northern softwood pulp made from the kind of fibre that can be harvested in Canadian forests. He says Asian Pulp & Paper (APP) mixes it with inferior pulp produced in plantations on degraded lands in Indonesia. As reported in previous articles in this series, APP is the giant pulp and paper conglomerate headed by Teguh Ganda Wijaya, father to Jacskon Wijaya, who owns Paper Excellence.

Canada is the world’s largest producer of northern bleached softwood kraft pulp (NBSK), and in 2021 had the capacity to produce six million tonnes of it. Most of the bleached softwood kraft pulp produced by Paper Excellence mills in Canada is exported to Asia, including the pulp produced by Northern Pulp in Nova Scotia before the mill closed.

Click here to read “Deforestation Inc: Paper Excellence’s rapid expansion in Canada is a ‘fibre grab’ to feed mills in China, say critics.”

As I told Baxter yesterday, being able to publish this kind of deep investigative dive is exactly why I started the Examiner nine years ago. I’m proud of this work.

Baxter has worked on this series for a year with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and the Examiner has funded her involvement. She is among the hardest-working reporters I’ve ever met.

By comparison, my work on the project was limited to advice and fact-checking, editing, and participating in legal vetting, but even that has taken a lot of my time.

As a result of the ICIJ investigation, “Charlie Angus, the NDP’s natural resource critic, is calling for parliamentary committee hearings to examine who is behind the company that has become Canada’s largest producer of wood pulp.” Elizabeth Thompson reports for the CBC.

The CBC is a member of the ICIJ, and Baxter has worked closely with CBC reporters. In its own article about the investigation, the CBC cites the Halifax Examiner three times.

It’s your subscriptions that make all of this work possible. If you value investigative journalism, please consider subscribing.

2. Ottawa fights back on provinces’ private health

A sign on the door at Bluenose Health. Credit: Contributed

“A rise in the number of companies offering Canadians faster access to health care at a price is prompting the federal government to launch a crackdown on the practice, CBC News has learned,” reports Mike Crawley for the CBC:

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is telling the provinces to put a stop to patients being charged for medically necessary care — and warns that Ottawa will claw back federal health transfer payments if the charges continue.

“I am very concerned with the recent increase in reports of patient charges for medically necessary services,” Duclos says in a letter sent Thursday to all provincial and territorial health ministers. Federal officials provided CBC News with a copy.

“No matter where in the country Canadians live or how they receive medically necessary care, they must be able to access these services without having to pay out of pocket.”

Companies charging patients for virtual visits with a family physician are the chief targets of the federal crackdown, according to a senior government official.

As Jennifer Henderson reported last week, a private clinic has recently opened in Halifax:

Nova Scotians will soon have another form of access to health care. A Chester businessman named Randy Stevens is opening a private clinic staffed by two nurse practitioners on Young Street in the trendy Hydrostone neighbourhood of Halifax. Bluenose Health will charge patients a monthly subscription fee (adult subscriptions cost $27.50 plus HST, kids are $9.50 each plus HST) that will provide access to visits with a nurse. 

According to [Health Minister Michelle] Thompson, the new clinic does not violate provisions of the Canada Health Act and Thompson chose her words carefully when asked if this private clinic will make it more difficult to compete for health care workers. 

“I’m very focussed on recruiting and retaining staff in my system, the public system,” replied Thompson. “So I have to look at the levers I have. Making sure we have competitive salaries and finding a good work-life balance. I have to focus on supporting and maintaining the healthcare system in front of me and that’s my task.”

Bluenose Health, however, appears to have paused its plans. A sign on the door of the clinic notes that it is not accepting new patients or walk-in appointments. (I’m not sure what a “walk-in appointment” is; doesn’t walking in negate the need for an appointment?)

But an unknown number of Nova Scotians have signed up for the private Maple telehealth service, which charges $69 per virtual visit with a doctor or nurse. The Canadian Automobile Associate offers its members two free visits with Maple, and Maple also has a monthly subscription offer.

The province offers free online medical appointments through VirtualCare Nova Scotia, but patients may wait a day or two before being seen. Maple promises same-day access to a doctor or nurse practitioner in another province.

The Examiner has requested a response from Thompson on this latest development.

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3. Another health care spending announcement

A smiling man in a blue jacket stands behind nine women wearing white.
Premier Tim Houston poses with StFX nursing students on March 9, 2023. Credit: Communications Nova Scotia

Yesterday, Premier Tim Houston announced a $37.4-million expenditure for the Institute for Innovation in Health at St. Francis Xavier University. According to a press release, the Institute will “look at ways to improve health promotion and mental health and wellness in rural communities, including chronic disease prevention and management, rehabilitation and aging in place.”

That’s the third health-related spending announcement in as many days. On Tuesday, Houston announced $58.9 million for doctor training in Cape Breton. On Wednesday, he announced $25 million for health data analytics and health system administration programs at Saint Mary’s University.

The 2022/23 budget year ends March 31, so we will likely see a bunch more spending announcements over the rest of the month.

I don’t know if that’s the entire StFX nursing program in the photo above provided by Communications Nova Scotia or if they just couldn’t find a man or person of colour for the photo op.

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4. Silver Sands Beach

A mess of signage and fencing is seen. The biggest sign is blue and green, with white lettering denoting the name of the park and the address, 1287 Cow Bay Road. Underneath is a sign with crossed out dog reading, "Dogs are now allowed at any time." There's a portable toilet in the midground, and behind that is a beach.
Signage at the gate of the public easement to Silver Sands Beach Park in Cow Bay on Thursday, March 17, 2022. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

“The municipality is going back to court to try to enforce an order to clear its pathways to Silver Sands Beach in Cow Bay,” reports Zane Woodford:

Halifax is also seeking damages, saying Ross Rhyno’s conduct has been “high handed, disgraceful, willful, wanton and reprehensible.”

At issue is an easement over Rhyno’s property that connects the parking lot of Cow Bay road — the one with the big moose — to the beach. Rhyno had blocked the right-of-way with fences, construction equipment, and even an outhouse. So in March 2022, the municipality sued, and Justice Denise Boudreau ruled for HRM, ordering Rhyno to clear the path.

But in a recent court filing, the municipality says there are still fences and concrete blocks blocking the beach access road, and is asking Boudreau to order Rhyno to remove all obstructions within five days. That won’t happen, as a hearing on the matter isn’t scheduled until April 24.

Click here to read “Halifax goes back to court over Silver Sands Beach access in Cow Bay.”

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a surgical mask lies strewn on the sidewalk
Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

Yesterday, Nova Scotia reported four new COVID deaths recorded during the most recent reporting period, Feb. 28-March 6.

All four deaths occurred before the reporting period (i.e., before Feb. 28). There may have been deaths during the reporting period, but we won’t know until future reports.

The age and vaccination status of these four deceased is not reported, but in general, 90%+ of the COVID deceased have been 70 years old or older, and unvaccinated people are abut three times more likely to die than the fully vaccinated.

So far, through the pandemic, exactly 800 Nova Scotians have died from COVID, 315 of whom have died since July 1, 2022.

Additionally, in the Feb. 28 to March 6 reporting period, 15 people were newly hospitalized because of COVID.

Nova Scotia Health reports the current (today) COVID hospitalization status (not including the IWK):
• in hospital for COVID: 14 (2 of whom are in the ICU)
• in hospital for something else but have COVID: 96
• in hospital who contracted COVID after admission to hospital: 52

It’s hard to know for sure, but this report suggests a downward trend in the current wave.

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6. Province files defence against Metro Housing employees

A screenshot from Google Street View shows a sign in front of townhouses, reading "Welcome to the Bayers Westwood Community."
The Bayers Westwood Community on Romans Avenue. Credit: Google Street View

“A lawyer for the provincial government claims managers at the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority (MRHA) acted out of ‘honest but mistaken belief of fact’ when they denied two employees had witnessed a shooting at work,” reports Zane Woodford:

As the Halifax Examiner reported in January, Jason Ashley and Gareth Boudreau filed notice of action via lawyer Douglas Lutz. Their statement of claim named the province and seven MRHA managers. Those are: Jamie Vigliarolo, Jane Clark, Mark Pace, Curtis Coward, Bob Driscoll, Sandra LaForge, and Ed Lake.

The two employees were working at MRHA’s Westwood public housing community in October 2020 when they witnessed a shooting. Halifax Regional Police confirmed the shooting, and announced it in a news release. Police later told MRHA they’d closed the case because Ashley and Boudreau were the only witnesses.

Ashley and Boudreau alleged in their statement of claim that their managers started denying the shooting had ever happened.

“Commencing in December, 2020 the Defendants made a concerted effort to defame, gaslight and vilify Jason and Gareth in order to cast doubt on their credibility and to cover up MRHA’s culpability in exposing the Plaintiffs to the shooting,” Lutz wrote.

“The acts and omissions of MRHA in defaming the Plaintiffs, gaslighting and vilifying the Plaintiffs, were intentional, high handed, reprehensible, callous, and deserving of an award of punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages.”

In the defence, the province says the Metro Housing managers misunderstood communications from police and there was no malice against the employees, and that the employees should be suing Workers Comp instead.

Click here to read “Nova Scotia defends lawsuit alleging Metro housing managers gaslit employees after shooting.”

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7. Police board

A close up of the HRP crest on the sign for the Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen Street in June 2021.
Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen Street in June 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

“The Halifax Board of Police Commissioners is looking for a different format, and more information, during next year’s budget debate,” reports Zane Woodford.

From my read, it appears the commissioners are feeling like the police department treats them as a big old rubber stamp for the budgets it proposes, and so they’re pushing back a bit by demanding justifications for line item increases and the like.

Click here to read “Halifax police board looks to improve its budget process, citing ‘frustration.'”

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8. Search warrants

The Halifax Examiner obtained a highly redacted version of a search warrant application made by the RCMP.

The media consortium’s long fight to unseal court documents related to the April 2022 mass murders is over.

After the murders, the RCMP obtained 21 search warrants related to its investigation, but the supporting documents for those warrants were sealed. The Halifax Examiner joined with the CBC, CTV, Global News, the Canadian Press, the Globe and Mail, Post Media, and Saltwire to hire lawyer David Coles to ask the court to unseal the documents.

The provincial Crown and the federal Crown, representing the RCMP, opposed us every step of the way, and as a result the consortium’s legal bill is in the high six figures.

We made slow progress over the course of the last three years, and yesterday Judge Laurel J. Halfpenny MacQuarrie released all the documents nearly in full, with only a very few redactions to omit witnesses cell phone numbers and such.

There are a lot of documents, and I’m slowly making my way through them, but so far I haven’t seen anything particularly new. I’ll simply publish them all later today, but even that will take some time.

The Mass Casualty Commission will release its final report later this month.

There won’t be closure on this for anyone.

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Budget Contingency Date (Friday, 9:30am, City Hall) — agenda


No meetings

On campus


Journalism from Below: Sub-Editors in the British Press System (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain building, and online) — Stephan Pigeon will talk 

Let’s Play Guitar (Friday, 7:30pm, Strug Concert Hall) — a Dalhousie Guitar Ensemble concert; $15/$10, more info here

In the harbour

00:01: NYK Delphinus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Southampton, England
06:00: MSC Rossella, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
11:30: Morning Courier, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 9
13:00: Gotland, cargo ship, sails from Pier 27 for Rotterdam
14:00: Onego Deusto, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 27 from Szczecin, Poland
14:30: MSC Rossella sails for sea
16:00: Aldabra, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from IJmuiden, Netherlands
16:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre
18:00: Morning Courier sails for sea
19:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 42 for St. John’s

Cape Breton
11:00: STI Notting Hill, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from Montreal


I’ve got nothing.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. “There won’t be closure on this for anyone.” True story, thank you!!
    An excellent example of the careful, in-depth, and well-researched work (by Tim and all the Halifax Examiner staffers) that provides the readers (aka: “subscribers”) reliable, honest news with integrity.

  2. Two items on health care in which the governments (Liberal federally, Conservative provincially) pretend to care about keeping health care out of for-profit hands. The move to for-profit delivery is not new so why is the federal Minister only now “very concerned”? Provincially, those nursing students Tim Houston is smiling with will be the subject of government vilification once they start to work, just as current and past health care staff have been for a couple of decades now. It’s phony concern on both parts, for-profit privatization continues uninterrupted.

    1. You made sure your City of Dartmouth union members had private healthcare coverage, just like NSGEU and other unions across the country.

      1. I don’t see any contradiction between supporting public healthcare and having private insurance to cover the current gaps in public healthcare. I think dental care should be free for all Canadians, but I’m not going to refuse to see a dentist until that happens.

  3. Re:announcement on the millions for the Innovation in Health Program to be run out of St. F.X.-I was not aware that such a program was a priority. In the rural area in which I live the top three priorities are: 1. getting timely health care from a G.P. and/ or specially trained nurse working in a doctor’s office; 2. better response times from EHS ambulance service; 3. greater ease with which to receive referrals to appropriate specialists like those who work in internal medicine for example. One question- whose idea was it that ‘Innovation’ was such a priority?
    A proposal that has been made is that the Health Dept. re-open Schools of Nursing in three or four areas of the province to produce qualified RN’s without the need to have a degree. Estimating that 120 new RN’s would graduate every two years and echoing comments made by a doctor on CBC Radio recently- ‘doctors have determined that about 80% of what they deal with daily could be handled by a specially trained RN working in the doctors’ offices’- why wouldn’t this idea receive any attention and some initiative taking? If this doctor was accurate, imagine what the impact would be on people seeking a family doctor if the more routine medical concerns encountered in a typical medical practice were to be handled by a trained RN.